Guest Spots: Tim Hecker on the loudest instruments in history

Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky, 2/14/11)

Tim Hecker: “Hatred of Music I”

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Experimental electronic musician Tim Hecker recorded his forthcoming album, Ravedeath, 1972, over the course of one day, using a pipe organ in a church in Reykjavik, Iceland. As with the majority of Hecker’s work, the record was shaped by computer-based post-production tweaking and editing (with engineering help from Icelandic jack-of-all-trades Ben Frost). His ambient soundscapes comprise ever-changing layers of noise and melody, building toward monolithic sonic density and hemmed in by meticulous attention to detail.

In addition to making music, Hecker also studied the cultural history of urban noise in North America at McGill University in Montreal (where he now teaches a course called “Sound Culture”), making him the perfect candidate to expound on important moments in thunderous aural innovation.

The Loudest Instruments in History
by Tim Hecker
Horn of Themistius

1. Horn of Themistius, ca. 9-12th Centuries

Roger Bacon found in the Arabic text Kitab al-siyasa a reference to an organ designed to be heard at up to an unfathomable distance of 60 miles. While designed with the possibility of musical tone, the organ was better described as a violent siren made to trigger terror and bodily harm: “It is a terrifying instrument used for various purposes. Because it will enable you to summon the whole district, and even your kingdom, and assemble the military officers the same day or more speedily, or in any way that is required in a large and numerous army, for the sound of this instrument carries 60 miles. … In time of war, it convokes an army for 60 miles, and the horn is manipulated by 60 men on account of its bulk and enourmous structure.”
Atlantic City Convention Hall Organ

2. Atlantic City Convention Hall Organ vs. Heavy Metal Band, ca. 1970s

Since becoming the “World’s Loudest Musical Instrument” in the early 1930s, the organ, a monstrosity of more than 33,000 pipes and six wind turbines giving it heinous power, had fallen into an increasingly bad state. By the 1970s, it was still mostly functional, and invited the loudest of hair metal to come to the auditorium and throw down. In a battle of the generations, and instruments, it should come as no surprise that the organ won.

1 thought on “Guest Spots: Tim Hecker on the loudest instruments in history”

  1. One wonders how might the Horn of Themistius could be utilized in the mountains ‘tween Afghanistan and Pakistan to root out Osama bin Laden and his cronies. Much more satisfying than a large explosion, rummaging through the rubble for evidence… Imagine just a group of ragtag terrorists running for their lives with their ears covered. Much preferable to drone attacks, methinks.

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